Not many people are familiar with Richard Stanley, his films or the battles he has had with the studios to get his films made. Not just made, but to be able to bring his vision to the screen, as he sees it. Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau is a documentary which tells the story of Mr. Stanley’s epic struggle to bring The Island of Doctor Moreau to the big screen. “Moreau” was a film released in 1996 and was an utter disaster from start to finish. It ended up barely making back its budget of forty million dollars (actual box office put it at about forty-two million dollars). But, the studio vs. Stanley battle makes for a fascinating documentary with almost all of the original players talking about the madness and insanity that seemed prevalent throughout most of the shoot. Even after Stanley was fired and barred from the set, things only grew crazier with each passing day.
Director David Gregory has created an almost flawless documentary with candid and brutally honest interviews with the cast (less Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer and David Thewlis). What fascinated me was how the producers seemed to make judgments about director Stanley even from the most mundane occurrences. One producer thought something was wrong with his director when Stanley asked for four lumps of sugar in his coffee while at a production meeting with the studio executives. “What man takes four lumps of sugar in a cup of coffee?” It was all downhill from there. I was shocked at how much studio executives and producers will judge a person on just about everything, when it comes to hiring a director. I guess that makes sense since directors spend the money.
Stanley had been hired after some studios had seen his film Hardware from 1990. It was a low budget B-film with Dylan McDermott and Stacey Travis. Called a ripoff of Terminator (not without good reason), it still garnered a nice box office return and a cult following. It is not a bad film, but nothing to write home about. Stanley’s next film was the atmospheric and visually alluring Dust Devil with Robert John Burke and Chelsea Field. Weaker on the story because of studio meddling, it was released, nevertheless, in a hacked up version. Stanley then sought out private financing to get his version released and it was released on a special edition DVD, where the story was a little smoother.
Stanley had caught the eyes of the studios who had seen he could write and direct while keeping the budget down. “Dr. Moreau” had been pitched with a budget of about 10-12 million with Brando as the title character but James Woods as the Val Kilmer character and Bruce Willis in the role that would later be played by David Thewlis. So far, so good. Tragedy strikes. Brando’s daughter commits suicide so filming shuts down. Then comes Willis’ messy divorce with Demi. Willis drops out and Woods follows soon after. Now, you a film with only the title character and the extras cast.
Stanley and the studio continue their bickering but the film continues to balloon in its budget and when Val Kilmer is cast, it is the beginning of the end. Stanley is now at odds with the studio and the his cast leads. The leads don’t like each other and some of the extras don’t like how Stanley is treated. Stanley is fired and barred from the set as the studio hires veteran film director John Frankenheimer, a fine director but not known for his warmth on the set. Filming goes from bad to worse as the budget skyrockets and hopes for a good film plummet.
David Gregory knows how to ask the right questions of his interviewees and they are all ready, willing and able to spill the beans about the utter chaos that seemed to be an everyday occurrence. Fairuza Balk who played one of the supporting characters but was the ‘female interest’ for the film believed and supported Stanley and when he was fired, she threatened to walk, too, until the studio told her that she was under contract and they would ruin her career if she did not finish the film. Rob Morrow, German actor Marco Hofschneider, Edward Pressman, Robert Shaye and Fiona Mahl give some of the most interesting insight to the daily machinations that plagued this film from the start and all of it is brilliantly edited and constructed so that you will be interested in every bit of their stories. I was particularly intrigued by Rob Morrow’s story. He was cast briefly but was not there very long before he realized this “Island of Doctor Moreau” was in deep trouble.
Egos, temper tantrums, studio meddling (some justified and some not so much) and even more egos doomed this project from the start. Still, it makes for a terrifically entertaining and informative documentary, even if you don’t like documentaries. “Lost Soul” tells the true story with class, does not really dump on anyone person and lets all sides tell their story in length, but you will not be bored. Stanley still works today and has penned a brand new script for “I Am Legion” based on the comic of the same name. It is still in pre-production and no release date is known. Stanley has vowed he would, almost certainly, never direct another feature length film. Dr. Moreau had cured him of that desire a long time ago. He has directed several documentaries and has three in which he is an interviewee; Uncovering Wolfen, 78/52 and the one that piques my interest the most, A World War 2 Fairy Tale: The Making of Michael Mann’s “The Keep”.
The released cut of Dr. Moreau is not a good film and neither is the director’s cut, as well. It has been savaged by critics, studios and audiences alike. It was a scandalous waste of 40 million dollars but, in all honesty, I have seen worse. None as fascinating as this one, however. Lost Soul tells the story in amazing detail and will stick with you long after the film is over. It left me wondering how something could go so totally wrong as much as it did. Frankly, I was amazed the film was ever finished. So was everybody else.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau- ***** out of 5
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau- Unrated but PG-13 in nature
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Doctor Moreau- Run Time is 97 minutes